The Buffalo Bills have missed the playoffs for 15 straight seasons. Doug Marrone bailed, and new owners Kim and Terry Pegula spearheaded an effort to land Rex Ryan as their new head coach. Doug Whaley remains the team's GM, and will work closest with Ryan to forge the new direction of the team on the field - but the Pegulas are also reportedly still on the look-out for a "football czar" to oversee the operation.
Think you're qualified to become that czar? Then put together your resumé, in the form of a Buffalo Rumblings Offseason Plan (henceforth referred to as "BROP").
This is a competition by the fans, for the fans, in which anyone who wishes can submit a FanPost writing up their plan for improving the Buffalo Bills for the future. Pretend you are the Pegulas' hand-picked assistant in charge of football, and it's Thursday, January 1 - the day after Marrone made his decision to opt out of his contract. The team needs a coaching staff and a direction. You need to set a goal for the franchise and figure out how to get there. There are a lot of decisions to make. Here are some things to think about:
- Who is your new coach? Are you going to go with Buffalo's ultimate choice in Rex Ryan? Do you want someone from college, or a different NFL option?
- Who is the quarterback of the 2015 Bills? Is it EJ Manuel? A rookie? A veteran free agent?
- Which free agents get retained? Jerry Hughes is everyone's top target, but are you willing to pay the $50 million or more that might be required to keep his services? What about C.J. Spiller?
- Will there be any shakeups in the organization? Will Whaley or any of his staff be replaced, internally or externally, despite a three-game improvement and a winning record?
- How do you improve the roster? Are you going to target specific players in the draft? Do you have free agents or trade targets in mind?
The competition begins at 12:00 a.m. ET on Tuesday, February 24, 2015 and runs until 11:59 p.m. ET on Monday, March 2. After two additional days for voting to finalize, the finalists will be selected, and final voting will occur from March 5-8.
The winners of this competition will be chosen by you, the fans! Since the goal of this exercise is to prove that fans do often know what is best for this team, it's only fair that the best judges for the entrants are our peers.
Entries will be graded by members of the community by voting in a poll at the bottom of each FanPost. The grades will follow a GPA system, with possible choices of A,B,C,D, and F. The score will be weighted based on how many votes of each letter the entry receives.
After the grading period is over, we will take the five entries with the highest cumulative GPA as finalists and create one final article breaking down each one. There will be a final poll at the bottom allowing the community to vote on their favorite finalist - whoever gets the most votes is the winner!
You must author a FanPost describing your plan for making the best team possible this offseason, and publish it before the competition deadline on March 2. You could define "best team" however you wish, whether it means a guaranteed year of playoffs or setting up for a bigger run a year or two down the road. Of course, ultimately you have to answer to the fans, and they will give you an approval rating that determines if you were successful or not.
- Your FanPost must include the acronym "BROP" somewhere in the title. This allows us to easily identify serious, valid entries to the competition.
- Only one entry per person. If you have multiple ideas, choose one for your official entry and make sure that your other possibilities are designated as invalid for judging.
- Include a poll at the bottom of your FanPost with the following answer choices: [A,B,C,D,F]. This poll is used to determine the community's overall opinion of your plan, which decides the finalists.
- Your plan must fit within a salary cap of $145 million. The current salary cap is $133 million, but it is projected to take a significant jump next year. Per OverTheCap.com, the Bills currently have $111 million committed to the 2015 salary after Kyle Orton's retirement, which leaves them with $34 million in cap space. Save $3 million for signing rookies (keeping in mind that without a first or fourth round pick, Buffalo's rookie class will be cheaper this year), and that gives you $31 million to work with.
- Within your FanPost, please include the following sections outlined below. This is a suggestion, not a requirement, but it makes reading the plan and comparing it to other teams easier. I encourage you to be creative and include as many animated GIFs or MSPaint drawings as your heart desires, but do try to structure the plan as outlined below for everyone's benefit:
- Strategy summary. Break down the general strategy of this plan. What was your opinion of last season's results? Are you trying to make the playoffs? Clean house and prepare a new regime? Build up the team for a sustained future run of playoffs? What's your plan of attack?
- Front office and coaching staff. If you plan to make any changes to the staff, explain it here. That includes changes with scouts, coaches, assistant coaches, etc. I'll even let you fire Russ Brandon if you want, but only if you've cleared it with Mr. Pegula first.
- Bills personnel. For all the UFAs, RFAs, and ERFAs that Buffalo has, break down if you plan to re-sign them or let them walk - or, alternately, if you plan to tag and trade them. If you're re-signing them, keep in mind the set costs (RFAs and ERFAs) or the market value (for players like Hughes and Spiller). This is also where you could trade or cut other players currently under contract with Buffalo, for cap savings or maybe just because they aren't better than Chris Hogan. It's your plan!
- NFL personnel. If you plan to acquire players through free agency or trades with other teams, walk through it here. Detail any free agents you sign and their contracts, or any trades you might make to acquire new players.
- 2015 NFL Draft. Break down your draft strategy here! Mock each Buffalo pick in order, selecting the college player that best fits the team you want to build. If you plan to make trades during the draft, go over them as well. This can be as detailed as you want it to be, keeping in mind that this early in the offseason, and we have no real idea which players will be available in the second round.
- Conclusion/Outlook. Finally, break down your plan. Walk us through the moves you made, the overall cost, and what the depth chart looks like. Give us a prediction for next season, or a couple years down the line. Make your case for why this is the best Bills team one could build in one offseason.
From here on out, anyone who is a veteran of this competition knows what to do to put a plan together. But if you're looking for guidance, read below to get some information on the different components of an offseason plan.
Cap and contract information
There are several sites that keep useful numbers for anyone who needs to fit some salaries together for a projected roster. Spotrac, Rotoworld, and OverTheCap all do a good job breaking down salaries and cap space for teams.
Bills free agents
Here is a list of Buffalo's free agents, along with their compensation for the just-completed 2014 season.
The Bills have three exclusive rights free agents and one restricted free agent (Thigpen) this year. An exclusive-rights free agent may only negotiate with his current team, and can be retained by being offered the three-year veteran minimum salary (approximately $500,000), otherwise he becomes an unrestricted free agent eligible to negotiate with any team.
A restricted free agent may be tendered an offer in a tier based on the team's estimated value of the player, with a higher tier representing draft pick compensation and a higher salary. If Thigpen were to be offered the baseline RFA tender, the team would receive no compensation if the player left for a different team's contract, due to his being undrafted. The cost for the baseline RFA tender, estimated based on the increase from 2013 to 2014, would be $1.6 million for one year. If you really value Thigpen, you could tender him a second round tender for $2.4 million, or a first round tender for $3.4 million, which would ensure that no one else would try to sign him, because no sane GM would give up more than $2 million and a high draft pick for a kick returner.
NFL free agents
Spotrac has a running list of 2015 free agents and their 2014 compensation, which should be a helpful reference as you build your plan.
Potential cap casualties
There are a few players who, if they remain on the Bills in 2015, will carry a pretty significant salary cap hit that could be offset by cutting them this offseason. Here are the biggest names to think about, with the full list being available at OverTheCap.com.
|Name||Pos.||2015 cap hit||Savings if cut|
Bills draft picks
Buffalo doesn't have a first-round pick, courtesy of the Sammy Watkins trade. They lost their fourth-round pick in that trade, as well. That leaves Buffalo with the following picks, as estimated before compensatory picks come into play:
- Round 2, No. 50 overall (No. 18 in round)
- Round 3, No. 81 overall (No. 17 in round)
- Round 5, No. 141 overall (from TB)
- Round 5, No. 159 overall (No. 19 in round)
- Round 6, No. 194 overall (No. 18 in round)
- Round 7, No. 232 overall (No. 17 in round)
Don't expect the Bills to receive any compensatory picks despite losing Jairus Byrd in free agency last year, thanks to a free agent spending spree that included Corey Graham, Chris Williams, Jarius Wynn, and Anthony Dixon.
Draft pick values
Looking to trade your picks for other picks? This table, provided by DraftBreakdown.com, gives us a guideline for how teams estimate the values of picks when making a trade. When trading up, the package of picks being offered should be about equal in value to the picks being requested, or exceed the value by zero to five percent. For example, if a team wished to trade up from No. 5 overall to No. 4 overall, adding in the No. 101 overall pick (worth 96 points) and the No. 133 pick (worth 39.5 points) would result in a total value of 1,835.5 against 1,800 for the value of the fourth overall pick.
If you want to include future picks into the equation, it helps to give them a "future discount" of one round to represent the uncertainty and delay before the compensation is received. Take the Watkins trade: the move up from No. 9 to No. 4 began with a pick worth 1,350 points. The No. 19 overall pick has a value of 875, which would normally be an overpay, but discounted by one round, the value of 390 (and the discounted value of Buffalo's fourth-round pick of 34) makes the values much closer - the total sum Buffalo gave up is 1,774 points, which is right in the neighborhood of the 1,800 that Cleveland's pick is valued at.
There are a multitude of sites available to investigate draft prospects, and I encourage you to put some thought into at least one of the players the Bills should draft this year, especially considering they have their work cut out for them with fewer picks. Sites I recommend investigating are listed below:
Draft Breakdown - Puts out cutups from college game broadcasts showing every meaningful snap for an individual player. Invaluable for evaluating draft prospects.
Mocking the Draft - SB Nation's own draft hub. Dan Kadar puts out new content every week and is available on Twitter at @MockingTheDraft. Bills beat reporter Matthew Fairburn also used to write for it.
NFL Draft Scout - Looking for a general draft hub to get you started? CBS has a decent scouting team that puts out free content, including a very in-depth list of prospect rankings, to help you figure out this year's rookie class.
Matt Waldman's Rookie Scouting Portfolio - I can't finish without plugging Mr. Waldman, who does an outstanding job breaking down rookies in his writing, although he focuses mainly on offensive skill positions. He has also debuted an excellent film breakdown video series this year. I encourage you to check it out when you have some time.